11. German Philosophy and the State

The authority principle in German Philosophy
Kant as the advocate of absolute state power
Kant's moral law. Kant's concept of society
The idea of the "eternal peace" and the international league of states
Kant and Herder
Fichte and the doctrine of the inherent evil in man
Fichte and Machiavelli
The "self-contained commercial state." Fichte and state socialism
Fichte's addresses to the german nation
Fichte and national education
The idea of the "historic mission of the germans." Hegel's influence on his time
Hegel's dialectic
Thinking in categories
Hegel's philosophy of history
Hegel and the state

Submitted by Toms on September 6, 2011

The belief in fate
Hegel and protestantism
The prussian state philosopher
Hegel and Socialism

In sharp contrast with German literature and poetry stands German philosophy. Although it has not lacked occasional glimpses of light, Ger-man classical philosophy has never been a domain of freedom. Its best-known representatives have often flirted with freedom, but no real union ever resulted. One gains the impression that when life's brutal realities became too clearly felt, a few concessions, not too binding, were made to the awakened conscience in order to restore the disturbed equilibrium. In fact, the main trend of German philosophy was to organise bondage into a system and make of servitude a virtue which was consecrated by the famous "inner freedom."

What does Kant mean when he reduces his famous moral law to the formula: "Act so that the maxims of thy will could at all times serve as principles for general legislation"? Is not this to reduce man's ethical feeling to the pitiful concept of the law of a government? Coming from a man who was firmly convinced that man was inherently evil, this is not surprising. Only a man with this conviction could make the assertion:

Man is an animal which, when living among others of its kind, needs a master. For he surely abuses his freedom in the presence of his equals, and although as a reasonable being he desires a law, his beastly selfish nature leads him to exempt himself whenever he can. Hence he needs a master who will break his individual will and compel him to obey a generally accepted rule whereby everyone can be free.

This is in fact but another form of the ancient and terrible dogma of original sin with its unavoidable conclusion. It is just this which prejudices all freer spirits against Kant. Thus Goethe wrote to Herder: "After using a full generation for the cleansing of his philosophic mantle of various foul prejudices, Kant has only defiled it again with the stain of innate evil, in order that Christians, too, may be persuaded to kiss its hem."

Even Schiller, who was strongly influenced by Kant, could not reconcile himself to the kernel of his ethics. To the poet and idealist who believed firmly in the good in man, the stern duty-concept of Kant, who had really no understanding of the significance of social instincts, must, indeed, have seemed repellent. It was with this in mind he wrote Goethe that with Kant there always remained something which, "as with Luther, reminds one of a monk, who although he has left his cloister still cannot quite rid himself of its traces."

Kant has often been called a republican and a democrat. These terms are very vague and prove nothing, for more than once in history they have been made to serve as a cloak for the most brutal forces. This curious republican was a stern advocate of unlimited state power, to rebel against which was in his eyes a capital crime-even when the executive instruments of the state acted contrary to the law and allowed themselves to be led into the most tyrannical acts. Thus Kant expressly declares in his Theory of the Law:

The origin of the supreme power is for the people who are subject to it, in a practical sense, undiscoverable; that is, the subject, in view of the obedience he owes to it, should not speculate concerning its origin, as if of a doubtful law (jus controversum). For since the people, in order to judge concerning the supreme state power (summum imperium), must be re-garded as already united under a general law-giving will, it cannot and dare not judge otherwise than as the existing head of the state (summum imperians) desires Whether originally a real agreement among them (pactum subjec-tionis civilis) preceded it as fact, or whether the power came first and the law afterwards, are for the people who are now already under the law quite immaterial speculations. They would, however, prove dangerous to the State; for should the subject who now has discovered the final origin of the dominant authority rebel against it, he could quite legally be punished, exterminated, or declared outlaw and expelled from the state. A law which is so sacred, so inviolable, that merely to question it practically and thus to suspend Its operation even for a moment, constitutes a crime, is represented as emanating, not from man, but from a supreme, blameless lawgiver. This is the teaming of the sentence, "All authority comes from God," which states, not the historical foundation of civil constitutions, but an idea, as a practical principle of reason: the existing power is to be obeyed, be its origin what it may.

When one compares thoroughly the reactionary concept of Kant with the ideas of the liberal school of thought in England which goes back to Locke, one realises the shamefully reactionary aspect of this view, so daringly put forth at a time when beyond the German frontier the old regime was falling to ruins. Kant had already in his essay, What is Enlightenment? published in 1784, supported the despotism of Frederick II and praised the obedience of the subjects as the first maxim of political morality. His doctrine of the law, however, he develops in his later works - a proof that in this regard his ideas never changed. The "democrat" Kant was even ready to advocate slavery and to justify it as useful under certain conditions. He maintained that slavery was applicable to men who in consequence of their crimes had forfeited their civil rights. Such a man can, in the opinion of our philosopher, "be made simply a tool of another [of the state or of another citizen]."

The conservative point of view concerning the state and the respect of the subject for it, was virtually in Kant's blood. When in 1794 he received a reprimand from the royal government on account of an alleged disparagement of the Bible and Christian doctrine, he did not content himself with giving Frederick William II a written promise to refrain in the future from all oral and written expression concerning the Christian religion. Under the miserable conditions then existing in Prussia such an act was not only explicable, but also justifiable. But among the documents he left there were found these characteristic lines which had reference to the promise given to the king: "Recantation and denial of one's inmost convictions is contemptible, but silence in a case like the present one is the duty of a subject."

Kant, whose quiet Philistine existence never diverged from the prescribed paths of state guardianship, was not of a social nature, and could only with difficulty surmount his inborn aversion for any form of communion. But since he could not deny the necessity of associations, he accepted them as one accepts any necessary evil. Consequently, society appeared to him as a forced union held together solely by duty towards the state. Kant really hated every voluntary union, just as every good deed done for its own sake was repugnant to him. He knew nothing else but the stark, implacable "Thou shalt!"

One with such tendencies was hardly the proper man to formulate the fundamentals of a great social ethics, which is inherently the product of social communal life, finding its expression in every individual, and continually vitalised anew and confirmed by the community. Just as little was Kant capable of revealing to mankind great theoretical social insight. Everything which he produced in this field had been surpassed by the great enlightenment in France and England long before it saw the light of day in Germany.

That Kant, on account of his essay On Eternal Peace, and an earlier dissertation, A View of General History in the Light of World-citizenship, has lately been acclaimed as the intellectual father of the so-called "League of Nations," was to be expected in a generation which has long forgotten Lessing, Herder and Jean Paul; and only proves that the alleged "representatives of the German spirit" have also in this respect learned nothing. What Kant in reality strove for was no union of peoples, but a league of states, which for this very reason could never have accomplished the task he had planned for it. The experiences we have lately had with the international convention at Geneva have opened the eyes of all who are willing to see.

This was quite clearly perceived by Herder when, following in Lessing's footsteps, he declared himself against Kant's proposals and showed that an understanding among the nations can only be achieved by organic-meaning cultural-means, and never by mechanical means, that is, by the activity of "political machines." Herder explains that the forced organization which constitutes the state maintains itself primarily by continually creating external interests which run contrary to the interests of other states; and for this reason it is ill-suited to function as a mediator and adjuster. Therefore, he substituted for the idea of the international league of states advocated by Kant, his "association of all thinking men on all continents," proceeding from the correct view that mutual agreement between the human groups of the different countries is not achievable by dictation from above, but only from below upwards by the will of the people themselves. By this "all the prejudices of state interests, of native religion, and most foolish prejudice of all, of rank and class, are mitigated, confined, and made harmless." But, "such victories over prejudice are" - Herder maintains - "achieved from within outward, not from without inward."

Of quite another character was Fichte, who possessed a revolutionary vein that Kant lacked entirely. In fact, of all the representatives of German philosophy of that day, he was the only one who took an active part in the social and political life of his time. But a revolutionary temperament is, after all, no substitute for a libertarian viewpoint. Cromwell, too, and Robespierre, Mazzini, Lenin, Mussolini, and with them all other advocates of dictatorship, of the right or of the left, were revolutionaries. But the true revolutionary reveals himself in the ends that he seeks, not merely in the means that he uses, which are nearly always dependent on circumstances.

It is true that Fichte in his theory of law developed the view that "the final purpose of government is to make government superfluous." But he soon added cautiously that perhaps "myriads of years" would have to pass before man would be ready for such a condition. In the meantime all his acts were in sharp contrast to this stated distant aim. For Fichte was of a domineering, thoroughly authoritarian, nature a man with freedom always on his lips, but just the name of freedom, nothing more. Like Kant, Fichte believed in the "innate evil" of man. He later modified his teaching in many respects, but to this concept he always remained faithful. It became even stronger in his mind as he came more and more under the influence of the new romanticism in Berlin, headed at that time by Schleiermacher and the brothers Schlegel. Thus he could still write in 1812 in the treatise on Machiavelli by which he sought - though vainly - to induce the king of Prussia to take a decisive step: "The fundamental principle of every theory of the state which is intelligent is contained in the following words of Machiavelli. 'Whosoever founds a republic (or any other state) and gives it laws must recognise that all men are wicked, and that all without exception will express their innate wickedness as soon as a safe opportunity offers itself."' One who believes this has no trace of liberal spirit. It is this fatal belief in "innate evil" springing from the theological concept of "original sin" which has served tyranny at all times as a moral justification.

Fichte has given his conception concerning the relationship of men to the state the best expression in his essay, The Self-Contained Commercial State, which he later declared to be his "most thoughtful work." This essay, dedicated to the Prussian minister, von Struensee, contains the plan of a so-called "reasonable" state, in which the life of the citizens was regulated and prescribed to the last detail, so that they everywhere and always felt the directing hand of a political Providence above them. It is a police state in the worst sense, in which there is hardly room for any kind of personal freedom. Fichte's ideal state is made up of various classes strictly separated from one another, whose numerical strength is determined by the government. His work is prescribed for every citizen according to his class, and in such a manner that he cannot change his occupation by his own choice. Following the principle that "the earth is the Lord's, and man has only the duty to cultivate and use it profitably," all land is the property of the state, and the individual citizen is only given a lease on it. The state has not only the task of guarding the citizen's property, it must also see to it that every citizen receives the share which has been appropriated to him by law. Since the citizen's property is under the constant guardianship of the state, assurance is given that none shall become too rich and likewise that none shall perish in poverty.

Instead of the current gold and silver coins (which the state is to call in) paper or leather money is to be used to facilitate exchange within the country. This is the more feasible as the frontier is closed, and citizens are strictly prohibited from having any intercourse with the outer world; so that he can maintain social relationships only with his fellow citizens, of whose nature the state, of course, has sole direction. Only the state has the right to effect the necessary exchanges with other countries.

One can realise why so fanatical a worshipper of the state as Lassalle was so enthusiastic about Fichte. One can also realise that the very concept of such a monstrous state machine of officials and police as Fichte envisioned makes the mouths of the adherents of the Third Reich water, and that they, lacking ideas of their own, wish to attribute their intellectual output chiefly to Fichte. Fichte's theory of the state contains all the necessary assumptions for a state-capitalistic economic order under the political direction of the government after the pattern of the old Prussian class state, which today men often attempt falsely to call "socialism." While the citizen is to have his material existence secured, it is only at the cost of every personal freedom and of all cultural associations with other peoples. Of Fichte, too, we may reaffirm the old truth that no kind of social oppression would be anywhere near so intolerable for man as the realisation of the philosophical plan of government of our sage.

Fichte is today regarded in Germany as the true prophet of the most genuine Germanism. He is lauded as the living embodiment of patriotic thought, and his Addresses to the German Nation are today again in everyone's home. In the interest of historical truth it must here be stated that Fichte's conversion into a German patriot and guardian of national interests occurred rather suddenly. He was in this regard as changeable as in his earlier atheism and republicanism, which in later years he completely dropped. Even in his Fundamental Outlines of the Present Age he was by no means enthusiastic over the national idea; and to the question, "Which is the fatherland of a truly developed Christian European?" he found the answer, "In general it is Europe; more especially, it is in every age that European state standing at the peak of culture."

Thus wrote Fichte still in 1805. In December, I807, he began in the hall of the Berlin Academy the Addresses to the German Nation, which are remarkable not only as a powerful oral statement of his philosophical views, but also as the first revelation of the German patriot in him. His inner change was, therefore, effected somewhat hastily, proving that "the deep feeling of the holy cause of the nation" was not inborn. 1

Fichte's speeches were a brave deed, for they were uttered, so to speak, in the shadow of French bayonets, and the speaker exposed himself to the danger of being seized by Napoleon's henchmen. That the latter was not to be trifled with, the execution of the book-dealer, Palm, proved quite sufficiently. But others have shown the same, and even greater courage; and frequently for an incomparably more worthy cause. For what is the content of these speeches but a glorification of the power of the nationalist state? Their kernel is the national education of youth; according to Fichte the first and most important preliminary measure for the liberation of the country from the yoke of the foreign ruler, and the creation of a new generation familiar with the sacred mission of the nation. Hence the education of youth must not be intrusted to the church, for the church's realm is not of this world but is comparable to a foreign state, and its rulers are only interested in man's salvation after death.

Fichte's outlook was more earthly; his God was of this world. Hence, he would not give youth up to the priest, but rather to the state, although the latter only transferred the church's work into the political field with the same end in view: man's enslavement under the yoke of a higher power. It is futile to object that Fichte's theory of education opens many wide vistas, especially where he follows in the footsteps of Pestalozzi; all that is beside the point when we observe his objective. Education is character development, harmonious completion of human personality. But what the state accomplishes in this field is dull drill, extinction of natural feeling, narrowing of the spiritual field of vision, destruction of all the deeper elements of character in man. The state can train subjects, or as Fichte called them, citizens, but it can never develop free men who take their affairs into their own hands; for independent thought is the greatest danger that it has to fear.

Fichte raised national education to a systematic cult. He wished even to remove children from the home so that their national development would be exposed to no counter currents. Although convinced that such a course would meet with great difficulties, he consoled himself with the thought that when once statesmen were found who were "themselves deeply convinced of the infallibility and the absolute truth of the propositions," then, "of such it was also to be expected that they would realise the state as the highest administrator of all human affairs, and, as the guardians of minors, responsible only to God and their conscience, they would have the full right to constrain their charges for their own good. For where does there now exist a state which doubts that it has the right to force its subjects into war service and to deprive parents of their children in order to make soldiers of them, whether one or the other or both of them desire it or not?"

This looks very like the man who in his theory of law developed the thought that "outside of the state there is no law," and coined these words: "Right is freedom according to a law." Of course, with Fichte, everything happens for the good of mankind. May Fate preserve us from such a good. Which involuntarily recalls to us the words of the Pestalozzi student, Hunziker, who speaks of "the state-instituted drill for the people's happiness."

The remaining ideas expressed by Fichte in his Addresses to the German Nation contain no trace of true liberal spirit, though much is said about freedom. Freedom, however, only according to Fichte's meaning, and that was of a most peculiar sort. But one thing those addresses have effected and effect still today: they have in a large measure contributed to the inculcation in Germany of that attitude of superiority which rebounds so little to the credit of the German name. We are speaking here of the superstitious belief in "the historical mission of the Germans" which is again today flourishing like a weed in good soil. Since Luther, this curious illusion haunts all German history; but especially is it marked with Fichte and Hegel. 2 It even found its way into the literature of German socialism and was lovingly nursed by Lassalle. Houston Stewart, Chamberlain and his countless successors, whose madness has defiled German spiritual life, before the World War were the heralds of "the German mission," determined to make the well-known words of Emmanuel Geibel come true:

By virtue of the German race
The world may yet attain to grace.

Fichte was, so to speak, the ancestor of the Chamberlains, Woltmanns, Hausers, Rosenbergs, Gunthers, and countless others, who today construct the race theories and proclaim the "kismet of blood"! One cannot, how ever, put him into the same class with them; for he was, after all, a man of mental stature, which cannot be said of his dull successors.

Fichte in his Addresses to the German Nation supported the belief in "the world historical mission of the Germans" with particular passion, after the manner of an Old Testament prophet. It was especially the form and the linguistic rhythm of his speeches which had so great an influence on German youth. He has designated the German nation as destined by fate to be the "mother and reconstructor" of humanity. "Among all the newer nations it is you in whom the germ of human perfection is most definitely contained and to whom progress in the development thereof is intrusted." But this belief was not enough for him. He condemned and excommunicated everything which did not fit into his concept of what constitutes "Germanism"- which was only natural in such an obstinately authoritarian character. At the same time he did not fail to proclaim his own theory as the special, indeed, as the philosophy of the Germans and to reject the ideas of his great antagonists, Kant and Hegel, as "un-German" - a method which has always proved effective in Germany as its recent history has again clearly shown.... It is always the same story: man creates his god after his own image. Fichte was not mistaken when he said, "What kind of philosophy one chooses depends upon what kind of man one is." But when he made the attempt to impose his purely personal evaluations upon the whole nation, he arrived at the monstrous sophism whose tragic effect has not even today been overcome.

Among the representatives of classical philosophy in Germany, Hegel has affected his contemporaries most deeply. During his last years he was enthroned like an absolute monarch in the realm of the mind; hardly anyone dared to oppose him. Men who had already achieved a name in the most varied fields and those for whom a leading role was reserved in the future, sat at his feet and harkened to his words as if they came from an oracle. His thought influenced not only the best minds in Germany; it also found a decided echo in Russia, France, Belgium, Denmark and Italy. It is not easy today rightly to understand that mighty diffusion of ideas. Still stranger does it seem that Hegel's influence could extend to men of all political and social tendencies. Bred-in-the-bone reactionaries, and revolutionists heavy with the unborn future, conservatives and liberals, absolutists and democrats, monarchists and republicans, opponents and defenders of property - they all hung as if enchanted on the breasts of his wisdom.

For the most part this astonishing influence is not traceable to the content of the Hegelian doctrine; it was the peculiar dialectic form of his thought that captivated them. Hegel opposed the static concepts of his predecessors with the idea of an eternal becoming; so that he was less concerned to comprehend things in themselves than to trace their relationship to other phenomena. He interpreted in his own manner the Heraclitan thesis of the eternal flux of things, assuming an inner connection of phenomena such that each carries within itself its own opposite, which must of inner necessity operate to make room for a new phenomenon in its kind more perfect than the two forms of the becoming. Hegel called these thesis, antithesis and synthesis. But since, with him, each synthesis becomes at once the thesis of a new series, there is created an unbroken chain of which the individual links are firmly interlocked after an eternal divine plan.

Because of this concept, Hegel has been praised as the great herald of the evolutionary theory, but without justification; for his purely speculative concept has little in common with real evolutionary thought. The great founders of the evolution theory combined with these views the idea that organic forms exist not as separate units each for itself, but have rather descended one from another in such manner that the higher forms have developed from the lower. This process constitutes, so to speak, the whole content of the history of the organic world and leads to the appearance and development of the various species on earth, whose slow or rapid alteration is caused by changes in the environment and the external conditions of life. But to no serious researcher has it ever occurred to represent the process according to Hegel's view as an eternal repetition of the same tripartite scheme with the first form always by implacable necessity changing into its opposite in order that the general process of becoming may take its natural course. This speculative thought which knew how to work only with thesis and antithesis not only has no connection whatsoever with the actual phenomena of life; it stands in most violent contradiction to the real evolutionary idea based on the concept of organic becoming, which necessarily excludes any possibility that any species may change into its opposite. It must be rejected as the idle speculation of an errant imagination.

It was Hegel, too, who introduced that thinking in categories which has caused and is still causing such enormous confusion in men's minds. By endowing whole peoples with definite qualities and traits of character, a thing which at best can be affirmed only of the individual, and which, generalised, leads only to the most nonsensical conclusions, he conjured up an evil spirit which cripples thought and diverts it from its natural course, smoothing the way for our modern race theoreticians and the collective evaluations of an arrogant "national psychology." Whatever else Hegel wrote is now long forgotten, but his method of collective concept formation still haunts the minds of men and leads them only too frequently into the most daring assertions and the most monstrous conclusions, whose scope most of them hardly suspect. 3

Hegel endowed every people which has played a historical part in the course of events with a special spirit whose task it was to execute God's plan. But every folk spirit is itself only "an individual in the course of world history," whose higher purpose it has to fulfil. For man, however, there remains little room in the spiritual world. He exists only in so far as he serves as a means of expression for some collective spirit. His role is therefore clearly prescribed for him: "The relation of the individual to it [the national spirit] is that he shall appropriate this substantial being, that it shall become his mind and art, in order that he may become something worth while. For he finds in the nation's existence a world already finished and firm into which he has to incorporate himself In this, its work, the spirit of the people finds its world and is content."

Since Hegel was of the opinion that in every nation which the "world spirit" has created as a tool for the execution of his mysterious plans there dwells a separate spirit which merely prepares it for its intended task, it follows that every nation is intrusted with a special "historic mission" whereby every form of its historic activity is determined in advance. This mission is its fate, its destiny, reserved for it alone and for no other people, and it cannot change its mission by its own powers.

Fichte tried to explain the "historic mission of the Germans" which he preached by their special type of history. In doing so he ventured the most extreme assertions, which time has long discredited. But at least he tried to justify this alleged mission on reasonable grounds. According to Hegel, however, the mission of a people is not a result of its history; the mission which is intrusted to it by the world spirit constitutes, rather, t he content of its history, and all this happens that the spirit may at last attain "to the consciousness of itself."

So Hegel became the modern creator of that blind theory of destiny whose supporters see in every historic event a "historical necessity," see in every end men have conceived a historical mission." Hegel is still alive in the sense that even today we speak quite seriously of the historic mission of a race, of a nation, of a class. Most of us do not even suspect that this fatalistic concept so crippling to man's activity had its root in Hegel's method of thought.

And yet there is expressed here only a blind belief which has no, relationship whatsoever to the realities of life and whose implications are quite without proof. All this talk about the "compulsory course of historical events" and "the historically conditioned necessities" of social life-empty formulas repeated ad nauseam by the advocates of Marxism-what is it but a new belief in Fate sprung from Hegel's spectral world, except that in this case "conditions of production" has assumed the role of the "absolute spirit"? And yet every hour of life proves that these "historical necessities" have persistence only as long as men are willing; to accept them without opposition. In fact there are in history no compulsory causes, but only conditions which men endure and which disappear as soon as men learn to perceive their causes and rebel against them.

Hegel's famous dictum, "What is reasonable is real, and what is real is reasonable"4 -words which no dialectic cleverness can rob of their real meaning-have become the leitmotif of all reaction, just because they raise acceptance of given conditions to a principle and try to justify every villainy, every inhuman condition, by the inalterability of the "historically necessary." The leaders of German socialism are merely imitating the sophistry of Hegel where they undertake, as they have thus far done, to discover in every social evil a consequence of the capitalistic economic order which, willy-nilly, one must endure until the time is ripe for its change or - according to Hegel - until thesis changes to antithesis. On what else does this notion rest but Hegelian fatalism translated into economic terms? We accept conditions and do not know that we are killing the spirit that resists existing wrongs.

Kant had set up unqualified submission of the subject to the power of the state as a principle of social morality. Fichte derived all right from the state and wanted to inculcate the view in all youth so that the Germans might at last become "Germans in the true sense of the word, namely, citizens of the state." But Hegel worshiped the state as an end in itself, as "the reality of the moral idea," as "God on earth." No one made such a cult out of the state, no one planted the idea of voluntary servitude so deeply in the minds of men, as he. He raised the state idea to a religious principle and put on a par with the revelations of the New Testament those ideas of right formulated by the state. "For it is now known that what is declared moral and right by the state is also divine and commanded by God, and that judged by its content there is nothing higher or holier."

Hegel more than once insisted that he owed his conception of the state to the ancients, more especially to Plato. What he really looked back to was the old Prussian state, that mis-birth which sought to compensate for lack of intelligence by barrack drill and bureaucratic stupidity. Rudolf Haym was quite right when he remarked with biting sarcasm that from Hegel "the lovely image of the ancient state received a coat of black and white paint." In fact, Hegel was merely the state philosopher of the Prussian government and never failed to justify its worst misdeeds. The introduction to his Philosophy of Law is a grim defence of the miserable Prussian conditions, an excommunicating curse against all who dared to shake the traditional. With a severity that amounted to a public denunciation he turned against Professor J. F. Fries (very popular among youth on account of his liberal ideas), because in his essay, The German League and the German State Constitution, he had dared to maintain that in a good community "life comes from below" - as Hegel scornfully put it, from the "so-called 'people."' Such a concept was, of course, high treason in his eye, high treason against the "idea of the State," which alone endows people with life and for that reason is above all criticism. Since the state embodies in itself the "ethical whole" it is the "ethical itself." When Haym called this invective of Hegel "a scientific justification of the Carlsbad police system and the persecution of the demagogues" he said not a word-too much. 5

The Prussian state had an especial attraction for Hegel because he believed that he found exemplified in it all the necessary assumptions for the character of the state in general. Like de Maistre and Bonald, the great prophets of reaction in France, Hegel could recognise that all authority has its roots in religion. Hence, it was the great aim of his life to merge the state with religion most intimately into a great unit whose separate parts were organically intergrown with one another. Catholicism seemed to him little suited for this purpose - significantly, for the reason that it left too much scope for man's conscience.

In his Philosophy of History he says: "In the Catholic Church, however, the conscience can very well be opposed to the laws of the state. The murder of kings, conspiracies against the state, and the like have often been instigated and executed by the priests."

This is the Simon-pure Hegel, and one can understand why his biographer, Rosenkranz, insists that it was his ambition to become the Machiavelli of Germany. It is certainly dangerous for a state when its citizens have a conscience; what it needs is men without conscience, or, better still, men whose conscience is quite in conformity with reasons of s state, men in whom the feeling of personal responsibility has been replaced by the automatic impulse to act in the interest of the state.

According to Hegel, only Protestantism was fitted to this task, because the Protestant church has "accomplished the reconciliation of religion with law. There is no sacred, no religious conscience separate from secular law-or even antagonistic to it." Upon this road the goal was clear: from the reconciliation of religion with secular law to the deification of the state. And Hegel took this step with full consciousness of its logical correctness: "It is the way of God with the world that the state shall exist. Its foundation is the power of reason manifesting itself as will. In the idea of the state one must not have special states in mind, not special institutions, but rather the Idea, this actual God, considered in itself."

For all that, this high priest of authority at any price was able in the last section of his Philosophy of History to write these words: "For history is nothing but the evolution of the concept of freedom." It was, however, only the Hegelian freedom of which he spoke, and it looked exactly like the famous reconciliation of religion with law. For the peace of weak souls he soon after added these words. "Objective freedom, however, that is, the laws of real freedom, demand the subjugation of the casual will, for this is in general formal. In any event, if the objective is reasonable in itself, then the perception of this reason must correspond, and then the essential element of subjective freedom is also present."

The meaning of this passage is sufficiently obscure, as is everything that Hegel wrote, but it describes in reality nothing but the abrogation of the individual will in the name of freedom. The freedom that Hegel meant was, anyhow, only a police concept. One is involuntarily reminded of the words of Robespierre: "A revolutionary government is a despotism 0 of freedom over tyranny." The lawyer of Arras, who went to bed with "Reason" and got up with "Virtue," would have made an excellent disciple for Hegel.

One is frequently reminded of the social-critical character of the neo-Hegelians ("Young Hegelians") in order to prove that such a trend of thought could only proceed from a revolutionary source. But with much more reason one could point to the fact that a whole legion of the most hard-boiled, bred-in-the-bone reactionaries have emanated from Hegel's school. Nor must we forget that it was just this neo-Hegelianism that carried a whole body of reactionary notions over into the opposite camp, where in part even today they still flourish.

Hegel's play with empty words, whose lack of content he knew how to hide by a symbology as pretentious as it was incomprehensible, has for decades artificially inhibited in Germany the inner urge for real knowledge. It has seduced many an able mind into pursuing the shadow forms of idle speculation instead of approaching life's realities and devoting heart and mind to a new organization of the conditions of social life.

A man who speculates, I say to thee,
Quite like a beast on barren heaths appears to me
By wicked sprite in circles led around
While all about is beautiful rich ground.

Goethe might well have been thinking of the Prussian state philosopher when he wrote these sprightly lines, for as a matter of fact Hegel was all his life led in circles by the spirits he had himself conjured up. Thousands followed him as the bearer of the torch of truth, never suspecting that it was but a will-o'-the-wisp that flickered over swamps and lured them ever deeper into the misty realm of a barren metaphysic.

Hegelianism in the form of Marxism acted on the great movement of socialism like mildew on a germinating seed. It scorned the hot, living words of Saint-Simon, "Remember, my son, one must be enthusiastic in order to accomplish great things"; and taught men to curb their longings s and to listen to the regulated ticking of the clock which expresses that silent reign of unchangeable law, according to which all coming and going in history proceeds. Fatalism is the grave-digger of every burning desire, of every ideal yearning, of all overflowing power seeking expression and striving to transmute itself into creative activity. For it kills that inner faith and confidence in the justice of a cause which is at the same time faith in one's own power. Friedrich Engels boasts: "We German socialists are proud that we descend not only from Saint-Simon, Fourier, and Owen, but also from Kant, Fichte, and Hegel." It was largely this descent which gave socialism in Germany such a hopelessly authoritarian character. It surely would have profited German socialism more if it had taken its inspiration from Lessing, Herder and Jean Paul, instead of going to school to Kant, Fichte and Hegel.

To be a revolutionary means to compel social changes by the assertion of one's own power. It is fatalism to accept conditions because one believes one cannot change them. Only a fatalist in the worst sense could have said:

"What is reasonable, that is real; and what is real, that is reasonable." Acceptance of the world as it is, is the intellectual preliminary to all reaction. For reaction is nothing else but standing still on principle. Hegel was a reactionary from head to heels. All libertarian feeling was foreign to him; it did not fit into the narrow frame of his fatalistic concepts. He was the stern, implacable advocate of a spiritless authoritarian principle, worse even than Bonald and de Maistre; for these only saw in the person of the monarch the living incarnation of all power, while Hegel made of a political machine, that crushes man with its merciless levers and gears and nourishes itself on his sweat and blood, a vessel of all morality, a "God on earth." This is his work in the light of history.

  • 1In his great work, Der Atheismus und seine Geschichte im Abendlande (IV: 73), Fritz Mauthner gives a very interesting description of Fichte, in which he remarks: "When he [Fichte] was accused of atheism in March, 1799, he sent to the Weimar government a threatening letter stating that in case of public reprimand he would leave Jena and with several like-minded professors seek another sphere of activity already assured him. And he was not merely boasting. In Mainz, Forster, with the other clubmen, were enthusiastic for the French Revolution, and the French government was about to resuscitate the old university. Fichte was to collaborate in a prominent position-perhaps the instigation came from General Bonaparte."
    Of Fichte's attitude at the time his letter of May 22, 1799, to Professor Reinhold is also significant. One reads, "To sum up: Nothing is surer than that unless the French achieve an enormous supremacy, and effect in Germany, or at least in a large part of it, a change of conditions, in a few years, no man of whom it is known that ever in his life he entertained a liberal thought will find an abiding place there."
    With what clear vision Fichte saw at the time events following the so-called "wars of liberation" showed clearly enough; the Holy Alliance, the Carlsbad Resolutions, the persecution of the demagogues-in short, the Metternich system-open reaction on the march, and along the whole line the brutal persecution of all who once had aroused the people in the fight against Napoleon. If a fatal disease had not removed Fichte in good time the powers that were would surely not have been satisfied to prohibit his Addresses to the German Nation, as was actually done. He would surely not have been treated more gently then were Arndt, Jahn, and so many others whose patriotic activity prepared and released the "wars of liberation."
  • 2Herder refers to this craze, which has at length grown into a mental defect, when he makes the eccentric Realis of Vienna say:
    "Germany's advantage consists of these four parts: that in the long night of deep ignorance she produced the first, the most, and the highest inventors, and in nine hundred years developed more thought than all the other four dominant peoples taken together, in four thousand. One can, therefore, say truthfully that God desired to make the world wise through two nations: before Christ through the Greeks, after Christ through the Germans. The Greek wisdom can be called the Old Testament of reason; the German, the New." (Herder, Briefe zur Beforderung der Humanitat 4te Sammlung, 1794.)
  • 3In his excellent little work, Rasse und Politik, Julius Goldstein cleverly remarks: "The empty scheme of his [Hegel's] thought continues among the men strange to say mostly foreigners, who think to have found in race the key to the understanding of the historical world. Gobineau, Lapouge, Chamberlain, Woltmann stand under the dominance of a Hegelianism with naturalistic features. It is Hegelianism when, instead of the individualist spirit, the race spirit is called upon for an explanation of spiritual creation. It is Hegelianism when all contingency is banished from history and the destiny of nations is constructed from preconceived ideas as to what a race may or may not accomplish. It is Hegelianism when Germanism and Semitism are opposed to each other with logical exclusiveness and all profounder relationships of life between them are denied by a hard rationalistic formula, It is finally, Hegelianism when the past and present course of history is explained from the one exclusive deciding factor of race without regard to the great variety of the forces operative in the various epochs."
  • 4Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of History.
  • 5Rudolf Haym, Hegel und seine Zeit. Berlin, 1857.